Symphony No. 2

The River of Life

Symphony No. 2 is a pastoral work in two connected movements.  Written for the end of my residency with the Arapahoe Philharmonic, the first movement is a picturesque depiction of the American West and the second, a meditation on the passage of time based on The River of Life, a sentimental poem by Thomas Campell.  Written in a tonal and consciously nationalistic style that also draws heavily on the canon of western classical music, the work can be heard as a philosophical affirmation of life.


The first movement is an energetic G major overture exploring two themes of contrasting character; a heroic tutti and a more humorous second theme, introduced by a muted trumpet in a string of staccato sixteenth notes.  Imitations of sounds from the nocturnal natrual world--cicadas and crickets--are heard in the development section.  After an energetic peak, the bombastic movement dramatically transitions into the second movement via a series of  upwardly sweeping string gestures.


The fluvial second movement, a series of variations based on a strophic hymn-tune introduced by a solo horn, is more subtle and introverted in expressive character.  After an exposition that declares and digresses on each of The River of Life's stanzas, the music moves processes on to a meditation on the the fragility of life, tragedy of loss, and struggle against the accelerating current of passing time.  On the edge of despair, the music stumbles into a timeless, placid halt--death.  In a final burst of optimism the theme abruptly transfigures into a glorious and triumphant conclusion, reminiscent of Brahms's Academic Festival Overture.  Closing our frame and uniting the idea of nature and humanity, a coda recalls the first movement, striving to resolve harmonic tension into an ecstatic C major (the tone of the universe) finish.


The work was first sketched in May of 2015 and finished by December.  Composed while I was both teaching at a public high school and directing a small church music program, much of the material in the symphony was drawn from the well of music around me, including the use of chorales and scoring indicative of organ registration.

Audio & Video by Owen Zhou (


Get started by listening to the prologe hymn:

Prologue Hymn - Arapahoe Philharmonic
00:00 / 00:00
Digital Score (PDF)
Part Rental
Sprial Bound Score

The River of Life

The more we live, more brief appear

Out life's succeeding stages;

A day to childhood seems a year,

And years like passing ages.


The Gladsome current of our youth,

Ere passion yet disorders,

Steals lingering like a river smooth

Along its grassy borders.


But as the careword cheek grows wan,

And sorrow's shafts fly thicker,

Ye stars, that measure life to man,

Why seem your courses quicker?


When joys have lost their bloom and breath,

And life itself is vapid,

Why, as we reach the falls of Death

Feel we its tide more rapid?


It may be strange--yet who would change

Time's course to slower speeding,

When one by one our friends have gone,

And left our bosoms bleeding?


Heaven gives our years of fading strength

Indemnifying fleetness;

And those of youth, a seeming length,

Proportion's to their sweetness

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